"Meet the new boss," The Who once famously sang. "Same as the old boss."
Walt Disney (DIS -0.12%) bringing back former CEO Bob Iger this week is clearly sitting well with Wall Street. The stock cracked the $100 ceiling for the first time since the company released its disappointing fiscal fourth-quarter results, ultimately closing 6% higher in an otherwise negative session on Monday.
One way to look at Monday's pop on the news that Iger is replacing Bob Chapek at the top of the media giant is that it wipes away the rough quarter that capped off fiscal 2022. It's a dry eraser for the last two weeks, but obviously this move could be bigger than that. Can one person really turn things around at the House of Mouse? Let's take a closer look at how realistic the expectations are for Iger as he tries to turn this ship around.
A mouse-warming present
Let's start at the bottom, as in the bottom line. Adjusted earnings per share clocked in with a 19% decline in the fiscal fourth quarter that is now wiped clean, fueled largely by operating losses more than doubling for its streaming division. Disney+ saw its subscriber base skyrocket to 164.2 million subscribers in less than three years under Chapek's watch, but investors have every right to wonder if it can turn cash-flow-positive by the end of fiscal 2024. One of Chapek's biggest successes is also what did him in.
It's not a surprise that Iger's first major personnel move as a boomerang CEO was to see that Kareem Daniel, chair of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, step down. This is where most of the restructuring at Disney will take place, and it will start at the top. In the coming months Iger expects to have a new structure in place that puts more decision making in the hands of its creative teams, rationalizing costs in the process.
He will obviously chisel away at the rest of the media conglomerate, but getting Disney+ on a clear path to profitability is a priority. There's speculation that his next move could be to spin off its majority stake in ESPN or shake up its theme parks division, but neither move seems likely. ESPN is an albatross in terms of soaring costs to secure deals for live sporting events, but it's too important a brand to cut loose as its own entity. Theme park enthusiasts hoping for a return to pre-pandemic policies, practices, and pricing at its gated attractions under Iger will also be in for a rude awakening.
Disney's theme parks segment is the one part of its business generating record revenue and operating profits. A trip to Disney World or Disneyland costs a lot more now, but the parks are still packed. The controversial Genie+, which allows guests to pay a daily premium for access to faster-moving lines, isn't going away. As many as 50% of park guests are shelling out for a service that used to be included at no additional cost to visitors, and it's a big reason why the average guest is spending 40% more now than in 2019.
It's unfortunate that some people are being priced out, but demand is bubbling up elsewhere. Moves to shift the guest mix away from annual pass holders paying $2 to $5 a day for year-round access to folks buying one-day tickets -- that next month will be as high as $189 -- is the kind of math Iger isn't going to blow up. It doesn't mean that he can't improve the situation for theme park buffs who were the first faction to call for Chapek's ouster. If Iger can find a way to dramatically ramp up capacity at the parks, it can open up annual pass sales and put an end to the unpopular park reservations system. However, there's only so much that he can do in two years at a company that has historically moved slow in building out attractions. Staffing is also a major issue to expansion for theme park operators in Florida where the unemployment rate is a mere 2.7%.
History has been kind when well-liked CEOs come out of retirement to turn their companies around, but there are a lot of moving parts for the bellwether of entertainment stocks. You also can't dismiss that he has set a two-year clock to find his successor, a plan that clearly didn't work out last time. He has a long list of things to do, but not enough time to get it done right.